Installment No. 4 by Ashby Brame Illustrations by Baxter Miller
My love affair with North Carolina has tumultuous beginnings to say the least. I have never called anywhere else home, but oh how I have wanted to. As a teenager I always thought I'd leave North Carolina maybe move to Boston or Savannah or Boulder. Dreaming as teenagers do, life in the big city would be sparkling with life and light. I would be a whimsical interior designer or a hard-hitting journalist. Life certainly had to be grander elsewhere, literally anywhere else, than where I was. Which was Kenly, for those who would like to look it up on a map. Most will need to.
And then, something beautiful and wonderful and strange happened. I graduated high school and went to the University of North Carolina at Asheville and I fell in love… with Asheville. Then I went to ECU for graduate school and loved the salty sea air life of a pirate. And that felt a little like love too. But I missed my mountains, so I moved back to Asheville for a job. Years worth of opportunities to leave came and went. The right path for me seemed to only loop back and forth across the land of the pines. The more places I lived in North Carolina, the more I loved North Carolina. As I grew older I could no longer imagine moving somewhere else.
It’s not just beautiful places that make me want to stay. Scenery alone cannot feed your heart and soul. Thankfully, North Carolina is full of the warmth of good people. My love for my family and my desire to be near friends root me here too. Instead of time separating me from high school and college friends, we have grown and changed together like trees planted side by side whose branches reach out as they reach up.
Now, back in the “county of my raising” to work for the state’s tourism industry, I have taken the ultimate root-planting step of homeownership in Clayton. Johnston County has pulled me back into the fold. These days I unwind beneath the yellow glow of lights that adorn the beer garden at a local brewery just miles from my house. I spend my free time at farmers’ markets and art festivals. I watch the golden sunset sink into green fields out in the middle of the nothingness I wanted so desperately to leave behind. Some weekends I go visit friends in Beaufort (that's Bow-furt) and listen to the rhythmic slap of tide water hitting a dock. Or I road trip it up to the mountains where the blue and purple peaks remind me I am small, and the stars in the southern sky remind me I burn brightly.
Occasionally, I travel to big cities for work and I let the pace of it all rattle and hum around in my bones. I think about the grand life in the glorious dreams of my childhood. I tell people in the big city they should travel to North Carolina and to Johnston County to vacation. I paint the picture of the wondrous place I live, a place I'm finding I am less and less likely to ever leave behind. Rural Eastern North Carolina has a life and light of its own - food that's homemade, air that smells like honeysuckle, people who know you and like you just the same.
I thought for a long time that my insatiable yearning to travel was actually a deep need to settle my life somewhere else. Surely if I desired to leave so badly, to explore and discover with this frenetic energy, that meant I was not meant for this bit of land birth planted me on?
But I belong in North Carolina. Just as sure as I feel the drive to go, I feel the heartfelt need to return. And maybe that’s why I never managed to leave North Carolina permanently. Maybe that’s why life kept offering me reasons to stay.
Travel is important. Travel is educational. Travel is thrilling. I would know. I do a lot of it. I butter my bread with it. But travel, in its very nature, necessitates a return to something. If all your travel arrangements go according to plan, you return to the point from which you ventured out. So, I may linger in Austrian coffee shops, Scottish castles, and Napa vineyards. But I will always return safely to the warm salt water, misty mountains, and dancing fireflies that make up the Ole North State I call home.